Imagine taking a train from downtown Merced and arriving in San Jose under 45 minutes or taking a different train and arriving in Disneyland in less than two hours.
When high-speed rail comes to Merced our downtown station will be one of the only three stops in the entire Valley. Imagine how this futuristic station will change not only the entrance to Merced, but how it will completely revitalize our downtown area.
The Greater Merced High-Speed Rail Committee formed in 2003 is composed of elected officials, educational leaders and private business owners who are now advocating for the system's heavy maintenance facility to be located at the former Castle Air Force Base.
With unemployment near 20 percent in our community, we must continue to advocate aggressively and pursue the 1,500 jobs this facility will bring to our community.
To accomplish this, the committee hired the engineering firm of Hatch Mott McDonald that has years of experience with high-speed train systems.
After many long brain-storming sessions and numerous rough drafts, we have come up with two very good sites to locate a heavy maintenance facility that fit the state's criteria.
The first site and the one favored by the committee is on the southern corner of the Castle Commerce Center, which is aligned to the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right-of-way.
The second site is the Mission site located on the Union Pacific alignment.
The Castle site is the only area in the entire Valley that can truly be called an intermodel facility because it is connected to an adjacent airport and a future freeway.
The Atwater-Merced expressway currently in the planning stages already has an existing right of way which can be modified to allow high-speed trains to cross from one alignment to the other.
This property and the future freeway are controlled by a single-public ownership (Merced County).
The Castle site is also uniquely positioned to fly in heavy cargo, which will be necessary since the California High-Speed Rail Authority intends to build and maintain these trains at the site.
The win for Castle is this now gives it a transportation anchor tenant that will employ 1,500 people and allow it to leverage the fourth largest civilian runway in the state to establish a major air cargo facility.
Finally, the competition to land this maintenance facility is just beginning with many cities and private property owners vying to secure the site for the heavy maintenance facility with a final selection due late 2010.
The county and city of Fresno are jointly competing for the heavy maintenance facility, and they believe the facility could pump $1.5 billion into the local economy.
The question many of you are asking is does little Merced stand a chance?
Since 2005, Castle has been the only site mentioned for the maintenance facility in all staff reports and maps.
Our committee believes that after evaluating the criteria put forth by the authority, Merced will continue to be the front-runner based on he following strong facts:
Our site is controlled by one property owner.
We are offering to lease this $21 million site to the authority for $1 a year.
The Castle site is the only proposal which is truly intermodel because of the proximity of having a runway adjacent to our facility as well as numerous economic opportunities and incentives.
Castle offers the authority a shovel-ready site since it has already been environmentaly cleared by the federal government.
Merced County occupies a unique geographic position that no other site in the state can duplicate because our area shows the trains actually splitting in three different sections with one route going north to San Jose, another route going south to Fresno and a third route which is phase II going northeast toward Sacramento.
When adding all of these elements together and realizing the money and time Castle saves California and its taxpayers, the committee believes that the only thing that can stop Castle selection is political decisions devoid of facts and based solely on emotions and politics.
Dr. Lee Boese Jr., a Merced orthodontist, and Dr. Benjamin Duran, the president of Merced College, are co-chairmen of the Greater Merced High Speed Rail Committee.